The mother’s mark: matrilineal inscription, corporeality, and identity formation in mother-daughter relationships in black women’s literature
Birdsong, Destiny O'shay
In this project, I use four Caribbean- and African-American female-authored texts—Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959); Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994); Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard (2006); and Emily Raboteau’s The Professor’s Daughter (2005)—to identify and trace the evolution of a specific mother-daughter dyad through which black women writers illustrate various interrogations of black female identity. In a phenomenon I call matrilineal inscription, maternal figures who are anxious to protect and prepare their daughters for lives as black women attempt to control—or inscribe—the narratives of their daughters’ lives; however, by doing so, they inadvertently create instances of trauma that are mediated through acts of corporeal violence. In turn, daughters who feel the need to claim their agency resist matrilineal influences, and in the process inscribe their own narratives of identity, which are also illustrated through counteractive acts of corporeality. I argue that, through these depictions of matro-filial struggles for physical dominance, both mother and daughter figures challenge the expectations of black female bodies placed on them by external forces. On the other hand, in instances where a daughter rejects the mother-daughter relationship, black women writers illuminate the dangers of denying oneself the opportunity of interpersonal interactions with maternal figures by depicting daughters who, by rejecting such relationships, foreclose on the possibility of establishing their own identities. Ultimately, I argue that, through depictions of matrilineal inscription (or the lack thereof) black women writers illustrate how black female tropes are more than just authorial reactions to stereotypes about black women. Rather, they follow a self-theorizing and still-unfolding trajectory of representation that has, heretofore, remained unidentified, and that has recently begun to question the ways in which black motherhood and black female corporeality have been assumed and defined in extant critical discourse.
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